Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Gout & About: A Slow Walk Through the Northern Quarter

Pictured: (L-R): James Campbell (Marble), Kelly Ryan (Thornbridge), Colin Stronge (Marble), Dave Bailey (Hardknott)

Gout is a particularly painful condition, consisting of a build-up of uric acid crystals (or urates) in the joints. Gout can affect any joint, but classically it appears in the second joint of the big toe. I have classical gout. It was painful last week, but this week, it's eased up a bit, and I'm almost normal. Going for a walk through Manchester's Northern Quarter last weekend wasn't a great idea, but throw in a brewery visit and a great pub, and I'm powerless to resist, gout or not.

Marble Brewery have been brewing for over a decade, and brewing damn good beers at that. Until recently, all their beers were certified organic and vegan, happily defying my assertion that organic beers are always compromised on flavour. Marble's beers have flavour packed into them - in fact, they clearly have too much flavour, because as soon as their beer is poured, the excess flavour leaps out of the glass, filling noses, rooms, cities with happy hoppiness. The organic certification has been allowed to slide for a few beers, mainly due to hop scarcity and pricing. The brewery has moved from its (by all accounts) homespun location at the back of the pub to a smartly whitewashed railway arch just down the road. The beers are still great, and their pub, The Marble Arch, is a jewel.

If one thing characterises Marble's beers, it's the extraordinary hop characters they coax into their pale beers. Manchester Bitter (4.2%abv), Summer (4.5%), Lagonda IPA (5%) and Dobber (5.9%) are stuffed beyond belief with exotic hop flavour and aroma. Dobber is the apogee of how much hop character you can stuff into a pale beer - lime, mango, grapefruit, mandarin, lychee. If Dobber wasn't so good, it would seem ridiculous to shower it with so many descriptors, but it's totally justified. My experience is that this beer is slightly more intense in bottle than in cask form, but your mileage (and ideology) may vary. Marble make other beers too - their Ginger is roundly praised, Chocolate is a rich delight, and get comfy, because there's a great tale attached to their latest release (sadly now all gone) Vuur & Vlam.

Vuur & Vlam is a beer originally brewed by the Dutch Brouwerij De Molen. It's a hearty American-style IPA, all resinous hops overlaying toffeeish malts. For this year's Borefts beer festival, festival organiser (and brewer at De Molen) Menno Olivier made the recipe for Vuur & Vlam available to all the invited breweries, and the challenge was to brew the best version they could. Marble's version came second. You might think that there's no shame in coming second to a brewery like De Molen, but in fact, De Molen's version came third. Talk about beating someone at their own game....

The visit was part the latest Twissup organised by Mark Dredge and Andy Mogg. The brewery and pub were the highlight of the Manchester leg. Being of sound mind but unsound body, I sat out the Huddersfield leg, where The Grove will have undoubtedly been the other highlight. You can read other reports on the full event here: Pencil&Spoon Tandleman IMHAGOB Oh Good Ale

The Michelin Guide uses its star ranking system to rate restaurants. These stars originally had a specific meaning. One star indicated "a very good restaurant in its category, worth a stop." Two-stars meant "excellent cooking, worth a detour," and three stars reserved for "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". Without even trying the food (which looked great), I'd pitch the Marble Arch somewhere between a two- and three-star rating: Great beer straight out of the brewery, an incredible tiled interior, and food that made me hungry when it went by on a plate. I'll be making a special journey back there soon.


  1. Rock and Roll Doc27 October 2010 at 19:09

    I agree with you when you stated that the Marble Arch is a 'Jewel' of a pub I wish I lived next door to it but alas I don't, be careful with the gout though - maybe you should cut back on the beer ? Only Joking !!

  2. Borefts was amazing. You definitely need to go.

  3. I'm firmly in the "worth a special trip" category. I really wish the Marble Arch wasn't quite so far away, I'll be heading back ASAP regardless though.

  4. One of my abiding memories of the day was when I was sat at a table in the Angel with you Zak & you had to take your gout medicine. The nearest thing to hand was my Ola Dubh 30 @ 10.5%, you duly dispatched your medicine in style, that Sir, was pure class.

  5. Rock & Roll - don't make me get all defensive about beer!

    Thomas - I certainly do, and am sad to have missed it.

    Mark - it's only a short jaunt for me, in fully-mobile condition.

    James - I'm nothing if not absurd!

  6. Rich foods like Shellfish, offal, even vegitables like tomato and cucumber are worse than beer.

    My doctor thought I had gout at one point (beer writers ailment despite what I said above) then they discovered I had just broken my foot!!

  7. Kieran - I love the fact that they took a look at you and thought "yeah, this guy's got gout". That's almost as impressive as actually having gout!


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